June 2, 2005
It was a cornerstone of television's 'family programming' in the 1960s. From its first program on September 29, 1960 on ABC to its last on August 24, 1972 on CBS, viewers watched with delight the humorous episodes of Fred McMurray’s sitcom family in
My Three Sons. By today's standards, this program would be judged wholesome and very tame. Each week, the TV audiences entered the life of a single parent and his children, one Dad and his three sons. What they saw then, and still see in the reruns, was a family working together as life changes. A family working together, each member with his or her unique gifts. In a sense, this is what the Church strives to be as God’s family in an ever changing world.
This past Saturday morning, I stood in our historic Cathedral. The sun streamed through the stained glass windows of the saints. Its warm beams reflected off the faces of a full congregation, joy-filled at the ordination of our three new priests. Three new priests. The first three I had the privilege of ordaining for our diocese. I looked with gratitude on ‘my three sons.’ They are gifts to this particular Church. The world is changing. Our family as the Church of Paterson embraces faithful from so many different backgrounds. Like the wise men who left their homeland to give homage to Christ, these three men have left their country of origin. Fr. Marek Biegun and Fr. Pawel Szurek have come from Poland; Fr. Eider Reyes, from Colombia. They have come to offer the homage of a life-long service to Christ as priests of our diocese. From countries and cultures steeped in the Catholic faith, they bring their special gifts and talents to help us become God’s family.
Their ordination took place in this year dedicated to the Eucharist; their Solemn Mass of Thanksgiving, on the Feast of Corpus Christi. Both events remind us that the mystery of the priesthood is rooted in this sublime gift of the Eucharist. On May 13, 2005, in the Basilica of St. John Lateran, Pope Benedict XVI spoke to the clergy of the Diocese of Rome. He made clear the indissoluble connection between priesthood and Church. He said, “The ministerial priesthood has a constitutive relationship with the Body of Christ in his dual and inseparable dimensions as Eucharist and as Church, as Eucharistic body and Ecclesial body. Therefore, [priestly] ministry is
amoris officium (St Augustine,
In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus 123, 5), it is the office of the Good Shepherd who offers his life for his sheep (cf. Jn 10:14-15). In the Eucharistic mystery, Christ gives himself ever anew, and it is precisely in the Eucharist that we learn love of Christ, hence, love for the Church.”
The Church and the Eucharist are the gifts of God’s overflowing love.
God so loved the world that he gave his only Son (Jn 3:15). And his Son so loved us that he gave his life for our salvation
. At the Last Supper, Jesus took bread and wine and said, “
This is my Body. This is my Blood.” By the creative power of his divine Word, he gave us not bread and wine, but his body and blood as the Eucharist--the sacrifice and sacrament of love. “
Do this in memory of me,” he says. With this divine imperative, he establishes the priesthood so that in every age, the Eucharist remain the summit and source of the Church’s life (
Lumen Gentium, 11).
To the Eucharist, we bring our prayers and good works, our hopes and dreams, our joys and sorrows. We unite our entire life to the perfect sacrifice of Christ. In so doing, we are lifted up in an act of Christ’s perfect worship. As St. Thomas Aquinas writes, the Eucharist is "the culmination of the spiritual life and the goal of all the sacraments" (
Summa Theologiae, III, q. 66, a. 6).
In the Eucharist, Christ gives himself; and, in his self-giving we are formed in love. The Eucharist is the school of spirituality for every believer. As we nourish our body with the bread of this world every day, so too every day we have the privilege, through the ministry of priests, to nourish our life with the Bread come down from heaven. What great a gift it is to participate in the daily celebration of the Eucharist. Through our sharing in the Sacrifice of the Mass, Christ becomes more and more the center of our life. Through our sharing at the Lord’s Table, we are drawn into deeper and deeper communion with God and with each other.
Church and Eucharist truly belong together. As the Second Vatican Council teaches, “…in the sacrament of the Eucharistic bread, the unity of believers, who form one body in Christ (see Cor 10:17), is both expressed and achieved” (
Lumen Gentium, 3). In the ordination of our three new priests, this local Church of Paterson rejoices. Fr. Eider, Fr. Marek, and Fr. Pawel are young men, zealous, dedicated, and eager to serve. God himself has called them. They have answered his call. Through the imposition of the hands of the bishop and the power of the Holy Spirit, they have been configured to Christ,
caput ecclesiae. Not only their hands and feet, their voice and heart--but all that they are--are at the service of Christ. They now stand before us
Christ. As worthy ministers of the Eucharist and servants of God’s people, they will help this local Church grow in grace and strength as God’s family.
At a time when some parishes are without priests, the gift of three new priests is a most treasured blessing. We need priests.
No priest, no Eucharist. No Eucharist, no Church. Christ’s death on the Cross is the perfect sacrifice. That sacrifice “is offered sacramentally in the Eucharist and in an unbloody manner until the Lord himself comes. The ministry of priests is directed to this goal and is perfected in it. Their ministry, which begins with the evangelical proclamation, derives its power and force from the sacrifice of Christ (
Presbyterorum Ordinis, 2).
In some places, even where there are priests, there has crept in the practice of having laypeople conduct communion services. A proper understanding of the mystery of the Mass and the ministry of the priests would only allow this in those areas of grave scarcity of priests. Certainly, this is not the case in this local Church. Where Mass cannot be celebrated in a parish on a particular weekday, the availability of Mass in a nearby parish gives the faithful a chance to offer the spiritual sacrifice of their lives in union with the sacrifice of the Cross.
Communion services do not and cannot be used to replace the celebration of Mass.
All of us, both faithful laypeople and ministers of the altar, are called to live from the Eucharist. Priests are called to truly live for the Eucharist. This great Church of Paterson will be richly blessed as more and more of us repeat with our lives the profound words of Pope John Paul II: "Holy Mass is the absolute centre of my life and of every day of my life" (
at a Symposium in honor of the 30th anniversary of the Decree "Presbyterorum Ordinis", October 27, 1995). To this end, as Bishop of Paterson, I thank God for the gift of
my three sons.